ATLANTA - At 16, Anna Valle of LaFayette, Georgia, has always felt comfortable in her own skin.
"I always knew that I was fearsomely and wonderfully-made," Valle says. "God made me who he wanted me to be."
But at 6 feet, 385 pounds, life was hard.
"Because everywhere I'd go, I used to worry, 'Will I fit in this seat?' Valle remembers.
Playing basketball, Anna struggled to catch her breath.
On a school trip to Washington, D.C., she couldn't keep up with her classmates.
"I just noticed all my friends having a great time, but I was struggling to breathe," Valle says. "And, I realized something had to change."
So, Anna and her mother Holly Valle came to see Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong 4 Life program, designed to help overweight teens get healthier.
"She came in and she was very honest," Dr. Walsh says. "She was open. She could talk about her issues around food and eating and activity."
Anna has a genetic condition that predisposes her to being heavy, so Dr. Walsh knew it was unlikely she'd be able to lose weight with diet and exercise alone. At 15, Valle began meeting with doctors, a psychologist, and a surgeon to see if she might be a candidate for bariatric surgery.
"The process that you go through with Strong 4 Life is pretty intense, and it's rigorous," Dr. Walsh says. "Because we really want to make sure that teenagers are ready to make a lifelong decision."
After 6 months in the program, Anna was approved for a sleeve gastrectomy: laparoscopic surgery to remove 85 percent of her stomach, to make her feel full faster.
"I was like, this is going to change my life before I even know it," she remembers.
The surgery was easy, change much harder.
"You realize you can't eat what you used to," she says. "You can't eat what you want. And you're not losing any weight, it's not a quick fix. So you start thinking, was this even worth it?"
Then, about 6 weeks after her surgery, Anna's mom asked her to hold a 25-pound bag of sugar at the grocery store. That's when it hit her. That's how much weight she'd lost.
"I was like, this was on me, I carried this," she asked. "And we both had an emotional breakdown."
Today, 18 months after her surgery, Anna is down 150 pounds. She says she's experienced little victories every day.
"I go in and find a pair of jeans that fit me in a store with my friends, and I start tearing up," she says. "They're, like, 'What's wrong?' And, I can fit, I can find a pair of jeans for me! And I don't think anyone can understand unless you went through that."
Because, for Anna Valle, life is sweet.
"You have this woman who is super smart and motivated," Dr. Walsh says. "Now, she's really healthy."